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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems : Avoid Ageist Attacks vs. McCain

A blogger with the handle ‘Campaign Tactician’ has a worrisome suggestion at TPM Cafe. It goes like this:

It’s time for some aikido. Attacking McCain’s Pop-Truth effectively doesn’t mean trying to change these perceptions. It means using these perceptions against him. It means giving the media a narrative that extends rather than defies their perceptions of him and letting them repeat it enough that it becomes assumed rather than debated.
I think we need to show him to be the Grandpa Simpson of American politics: An ornery, forgetful man flummoxed by modern America. In other words, a man quick to both confusion and anger.
…Start digging through YouTube and coverage of press events, I’m sure we’d find plenty more examples of where his maverick straight-talk can be read as the rantings of a grouchy, poorly informed old man. That goes doubly for the various flip-flops he’s made to gain the nomination. Paint them as “political expediency” and we won’t make any headway. Paint them as “makes stuff up so people will listen to him”, you’ve got Grandpa Simpson.

I like the Aikido metaphor and the notion of using an opponent’s supposed ‘strength’ against him/her. ‘Campaign Tactician’ makes some good points elsewhere in the post about MCain’s free ride in the MSM and leveraging his “poor understanding of world affairs.” But I call it a worrisome suggestion because the ageist language and mindset could piss off a lot of senior citizens, and they tend to vote in impressive percentages. Sherman Yellen puts it well in his HuffPo post:

I write this as a man in the prime of his life, and one who rejects John McCain not because he is a fellow septuagenarian but because he is an arrogant, ignorant, and dangerous politician. I take exception to the view that he is drifting into senility, or soon will, and that he will be a danger to the country because age will wither his brain and leave only a choleric warmonger to press a button that blows us all to smithereens. John McCain would be a danger to this country at 46; no, he would have been a danger at 25. What makes him a threat and a hazard to us all are his lifelong beliefs — militaristic beliefs he held as a young man, and ones he shares with a lesser man, George W. Bush, about how to deal with domestic problems and foreign policy…We must not judge him on his age but on who he is and what he stands for today.
If we demand that people regard Barack Obama as an individual beyond his race — and Hillary Clinton as a leader beyond her sex — then we must give McCain his due and not judge him by his 72 years. Age does not make John McCain a threat to this country’s future. John McCain’s beliefs do.

There’s no net gain to be had in dissing elderly voters, and Dems who want to win shouldn’t even flirt with ageist language. McCain’s judgment problems and character flaws are clear enough — without attacking him because of his age.

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